Lago d'Orta and the Isola San Giulio


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Europe » Italy » Piedmont » Orta San Giulio
July 3rd 2016
Published: July 17th 2016
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Glorious!Glorious!Glorious!

View from the bed - hard to drag myself away. Note the sunbeds on the roof of our boathouse. There is a little ladder from the garden down into the lake so that you can have a swim then warm up in the sun.
The view out of the window this morning took my breath away. Bells from the convent in the middle of the lake woke me, and when I opened my eyes, the mysterious glistening silver of yesterday was gone. Today the lake was uncomplicated, brilliant blue and happy. I was disinclined to move from the bed with that view out the window, but the threat of missing breakfast got me going. It was worth the effort, too. Beautiful local meats and cheese, pastries and fresh apricots that tasted like they had just been picked from someone's tree. We love all the little extras here as well, like the plate of sweet treats in the hall in case you feel a bit peckish! They are all packaged so beautifully - I'm thinking I must buy some for gifts. On Massimo the owner's recommendation, we decided to take the ferry across to Isola San Giulio for the Sunday mass, which is sung by the nuns who live in the Benedictine Abbey. It only costs a couple of euros to travel on the ferry and it is really fun, although you do have to be a little assertive to avoid being elbowed out of the
Sweet delightsSweet delightsSweet delights

Such beautiful packaging. On the hallway table of the b&b Al Dom so that you can help yourself
queue when the boat comes in! We made it just in time and the singing was beautiful - very pure and unadorned, not a hint of vibrato anywhere. In fact, it sounded a bit like a boy's choir. The whole mass was sung and I sneakily took a quick shot with the camera during the service, although I felt a bit uncomfortable doing it. After mass, most people went down the steps and straight back onto the ferry, but Frank and I wandered around the internal circular path. At one point I followed a group of people up some stairs by accident and was told in no uncertain terms that unless I was related to one of the nuns I wasn't allowed past the gate! It appeared that the crowd making their way to the Abbey were family members going for lunch with the younger girls who hadn't yet taken their final vows. I was surprised to see so many young people amongst the nuns actually. It's unusual these days. We passed groups of people sunbaking and swimming off pontoons at the end of tiny laneways, and would have loved to join them as it was getting hot, but our
The nuns sang the massThe nuns sang the massThe nuns sang the mass

In 3 part harmony. Lots of very young girls with no veil, some with a white veil and the older nuns in the full head dress. It's a closed order so they entered and exited through a different door.
next plan was to hike up to Sacro Monte to see the Unesco World Heritage site. The breeze on the ferry back to Orta was welcome relief, and we consulted the map before heading up a little laneway which quickly turned into steep stairs. After the initial bursting lungs, it was a lovely walk and much shorter than we had expected from the reviews, which were full of people complaining about it! The Sacro Monte is on the hill behind Orta and is made up of 20 chapels containing hand carved statues and frescoes depicting the life of St Francis of Assisi. They were not all built at the same time, or by the same people, but were eventually completed over the period between 1583 and 1788 and stand peacefully among the trees as groups of visitors wander slowly between them. Even if you didn't visit the chapels it would be worth the walk just for the fantastic views of the lake and the island from the top. Some of the most highly regarded painters and sculptors of the period were commissioned to produce the artwork and statues, and it's very interesting to see the styles evolve from the early chapels to the later ones. It was an amazing project really and begun by a Capuchin friar named Cleto de Castelletto Ticino. Great name. We took a different route home from the opposite end of the park and wandered back through town. We stopped for a light lunch as it was quite late at Pane e Vino, a very groovy little wine bar and deli in the square. It's really the only hip and cool place there - and honestly most places we've eaten in here have been disappointing and expensive, for Italy. Pane e Vino is run by a gorgeous young couple who stock only the most beautiful local products as well as some specific products from other regions, like cream-filled burrata mozarella from a town near Naples. We loved their uniforms with the little crocheted caps, and the quirky olive oil in tins (Have a look at the photo, it gave us a laugh). For my foodie friends, the asparagus with parmesan cream and prosciutto was just fabulous. There was a great group of buskers playing jazz under the arches in the square as we ate, and little children played and danced to the music. So lovely. I was ready for a swim when we got back and made my way through the little wrought iron gate to the garden, and down the ladder into the lake. Lake Orta, unlike Lake Maggiore and Lake Como, it's bigger relatives, is spring-fed rather than rain fed. This contributes to it being much cleaner and also a little warmer. Despite the relative warmth, I didn't stay in long and headed up the stairs on top of the boathouse to the sun lounges for a while! We tried hard with choosing a restaurant for dinner and skipped the one with a Michelin star in favour of a cheaper one with a view of the lake (remember, we'd been at Pane e Vino indulging just a couple of hours before!) In retrospect, it was a big mistake. My pasta was ok, Frank's venison not so great, however the view and the service from the 2 old ladies who run the restaurant floor was lovely! I am thinking that maybe the disadvantage of Orta being the undiscovered jewel of the lakes is that it's not so attractive to chefs! We might head out of Orta for lunch tomorrow and see how we go. It was a balmy evening when we left the restaurant and we had a few unsuccessful goes at setting the self-timer on the camera for a photo in front of the Isola all lit up, before wandering home.


Additional photos below
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Waiting for the ferryWaiting for the ferry
Waiting for the ferry

Ferries stop right in the middle of the main square opposite the cafe strip.
The villaThe villa
The villa

From our little garden and boat house in front of the lake
The little lane just up from "our place"!The little lane just up from "our place"!
The little lane just up from "our place"!

Checking the map for the path to Sacre Monte
St Francis of Asissi meets the popeSt Francis of Asissi meets the pope
St Francis of Asissi meets the pope

Through the wrought iron grill


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